Buying a bike for an 11-year-old, 12-year-old, or teen can be a challenge. While they’re too big for “kids” bikes, are they really ready for an adult bike? When a child gets too tall for their 24 inch kids bike, many parents face this problem and ask, “What bike do I purchase them now???”
There are two main options when it comes to purchasing the “post 24 inch bike”, with pros and cons to each choice:
|26 Inch |
|Timid or petite riders who aren't ready to tackle "more bike"||woom 6 |
|XS or S Adult Bike||Everyone else! Especially those on a budget, tall kids, and really confident riders who can take on more bike||Liv Bliss |
REI Co-Op City
Kids 26 inch Bikes vs. Adult Bikes
We have personally gone both routes when it comes to our own kids, and have been happy with the results either way. It will often come down to budget and your child’s preference as to what their bike looks like!
OPTION 1: KIDS BIKE
Benefits of Buying a Kid-Specific 26″ Bike
- MUCH lighter-weight than adult bikes – this is the MAIN reason to by a kids 26 inch bike
- Narrower q-factor (distance between pedals) for more efficient pedaling
- Simplified gearing – 1x systems, with only one derailleur versus 2, are standard
- Built with kid-specific parts – narrower seat, smaller-reach brake levers, narrower handlebars
What to Know When Buying a Kid-Specific 26″ Bike
- Kids 26 inch bikes are only made by higher-end bike companies, a budget option does not exist
- Due to their dialed in fit, kids can outgrow them quicker than an XS or S adult bike
OPTION 2: ADULT BIKE
Benefits of Buying a XS or S Adult Bike
- Much wider availability with a wide range of prices
- Available in multiple frame sizes to ensure a great fit
- From road to mountain, bikes are available for all styles of riding
- Greater chance of finding a quality used bike
What to Know When Buying an Adult Bike
- Quality bikes are usually over $500
- Adults bikes are typically suitable for kids over 5 feet tall (4’10” with a new or XS models)
- Bikes are sized according to their frame size, NOT their tire size and frame sizes can very greatly between brands
- They can be very heavy and can weight over 30 lb. Weights are also rarely published
- Simplified 1x shifting is typically only available on high-end models
- Components are often too large for kids – handlebars are too wide, brake levers hard to reach, etc.
- Tires on an adult bike come in 26″, 27.5″, 700c (hybrid) and 29″ sizes. As long as the frame fits, kids can jump from a 24″ to a 27.5″ tire.
Recommended Bikes For 11-Year-Olds to Teens
For a more detailed dive into the world of adult bikes, be sure to scroll past the chart to our buying guide below.
Bikes for Tweens and Teens
|Model||Bike Type||Base Price||Rider's Height||Drivetrain|
|Kids 26" Bikes|
4'7 - 5'5
|Frog 69||Fitness||$615||Inseam 27"+||1x|
|Frog 73||Fitness||$600||Inseam 28.75"+||1x|
|Frog 78||Fitness||$620||Inseam 30.5"+||1x|
|Trek Wahoo 26||Fitness||$480|
4'7 - 5'1
|woom 6 OFF||Mountain||$669|
4'7" - 5'5"
|Adult Bikes (XS/S) - Casual Riding|
|Priority Classic Gotham||City||$549||Inseam (26" - 30")||1x, Internally geared|
|REI Co-op CTY||City||$549||XS: 5'0 - 5'3||3x|
S: 5'1 - 5'5
|Priority Classic Plus||Cruiser||$499||Inseam (26" - 30")||1x, Internally geared|
|Adult Bikes (XS/S) - Multi-Use|
|Raleigh Talus||Mountain (rec)||$430|
S: 5'1 - 5'4
|Trek Dual Sport||Mountain (rec)||$550|
XS: 4'10 - 5'1
S: 5'2 - 5'5
|Trek Verve||Fitness||$490 - $760|
S: 5'1 - 5'5
|Trek FX 1||Fitness||$439|
S: 5'1 - 5'5
XXS: 4'8 - 4'11
|3x, 2x, 1x|
|Liv Alight||Fitness||$420||XS: 4'10 - 5'5||3x|
|Adult Bikes (XS/S) - Mountain|
XS: 4'10 - 5'5
S: 5'3 - 5'5
|Marin Wildcat Trail||Mountain||$449|
XS: 4'10 - 5'2
|1x, 2x, 3x|
|REI Co-op Cycles DRT||Mountain||$549|
XXS: 4'7 - 5'0
|Marin Bobcat Trail||Mountain||$629|
S: 5'4 - 5'7
|3x, 2x, 1x|
|Cannondale Trailer Tango 5 Women's||Mountain||$485|
XS: 4'10 - 5'2
|Cannondale Trail 6||Mountain||$485|
S: 5'2 - 5'6
|Trek Marlin 6||Mountain||$650|
XS: 4'6 - 5'1
What to Look for When Purchasing an Adult Bike for a Tween or Teen
Adults bikes are sized, sold, and marketed much differently than kids bikes. As a result, it helps to understand some of the nuisances of the adult bike world before you start shopping for a bike for your tall 11-year-old, 12-year-old, teen, or even yourself!
13-year-old on Priority Classic
Differences in Adult Bike Sizes
Adult bikes are sized according to their frame size, not tire size like with kids bikes. Most manufacturers provide a sizing chart to help you determine which frame size is best for you based on your height.
Adult Size Chart Example
Men’s vs. Women’s Frames
Many brands offer “men’s” and “women’s” bikes. In many cases, the difference is only in color or size.
Women’s bikes are typically available in smaller sizes than men’s bikes. Women’s often come in XS frames that fit a rider starting at 4’10”, while men’s sizes are usually only available in size S frames suited for riders at least 5′. As a result, many tweens (boy or girl!) may fit better on a women’s bike than a men’s bike.
But with certain brands and models, a women-specific bike frame is designed a bit differently than a men’s frame. Women’s bikes often have a lower step-through to allow for easier entries and exits on the bike. This difference is only for looks and does not affect the performance of the bike.
Reach and Stack
The reach and stack of men’s and women’s bike are usually different as well. Understanding the reach and stack measurements of a bike will better help you compare various bike models and their frame sizes to determine which frame and model will be the most comfortable for your child.
The reach is the distance between the seat and the handlebars. Women typically have shorter torsos, so a women’s bike has a shorter reach to prevent women from having to stretch out too far. If your child is more timid or enjoys sitting more upright on a bike, a frame with a smaller reach will be better for them. If your child typically rides more aggressively, a bike with a longer reach will be better.
The stack of the bike, which is the “height of the bike” from the bottom of the frame to the top of the seat, is shorter on women’s bikes to accommodate shorter heights. If the height recommendations are not provided by a bike company, the stack of a bike is often a great indicator of the bike’s overall height. By comparing the stack to other brands with published height recommendations, you can often determine the bike’s overall frame size.
Women’s vs. Men’s Components
To accommodate the smaller frames of women’s bodies, women’s bikes also often have narrower handlebars, shorter brake levers, and lighter suspension. If these smaller components do not come with the bike, they can always be swapped out later. In the end, fit is king. Many tween boys with smaller frames are likely to fit better on a women’s bike, while those with larger frames may fit better on a men’s bike.
Categories of Adult Bikes
Adult bikes are designed for a wide range of riding styles, ranging from fitness and comfort to road and mountain. Categories between bike brands can greatly vary. What one brand calls a “hybrid” another may call “fitness” or “active”.
To help a narrow down your options, here’s a very basic rundown of the various categories of adult bikes by use. When facing an onslaught of bike categories, these should help you narrow down what you’re looking for.
TIP: If you are planning on riding on a wide variety of surfaces, recreational mountain bikes (or basic mountain bikes with only front suspension – aka hardtails) are usually your best bet. Mountain bikes do, however, have a more aggressive positioning than other categories of bikes. If you prefer to sit more upright on a bike, yet plan on riding on some trails, be sure to get a women’s specific mountain bike frame as they tend to be less aggressive.
For those who want an even less aggressive bike, consider getting a hybrid and swapping out the tires for ones with a more aggressive tread.
|Bike Category||Terrain and Distance|
|Comfort, Cruisers||PAVED - Short|
|Fitness, City, Hybrid, Urban||PAVED - Long|
|Recreational Mountain - Hardtail, Hybrid with all-terrain tires (dual-sport)||ALL-TERRAIN|
|Cross Country Mountain, Hardtail||DIRT - Long|
12-year-old on Diamondback Lux
If your child just wants the “look” of a mountain bike, many companies however, make “recreational mountain bikes” for everyday riding. If recreational mountain bikes isn’t an option, the least expensive bikes under their “hardtail” section often fit the bill.
11-year-old on Raleigh Talus Recreational Mountain Bike
Focus on Weight!
Adult bikes are already significantly heavier than most kids bikes. Shocks can easily add 5+ lbs. to a bike, and unless you plan on paying over $600-ish for a bike, the shock that comes on the bike is likely to not be very effective anyway.
Clean, simple bikes with not a lot of extras (including racks, stylized frames, fenders, etc.) are typically lighter and therefore easier to ride and manage.
Learning how to shift with two shifters (a front and rear derailleur) can be confusing for adults, let alone kids! When at all possible, try to get a bike with a simplified gearing system. Most kids bikes are “1x” meaning there is only one cog in the front (near the crank arm – the pedals), therefore the bike only needs one derailleur in the back. One derailleur means only one shifter to worry about!
Most adult bikes are “3x” meaning there are three cogs in the front, with multiples still in the back, which then requires two derailleurs and a shifter for each hand.
Drivetrains on the Diamondback Lux Line
Internally geared hubs are a great option for tweens and teens as they are all 1x systems! The typically only have a handful of gears, however, so they aren’t recommend for those planning on tackling some pretty steep inclines.
Try Out in Person
When at all possible, be sure to try out an adult bike in person at a local bike shop. Due to the vast differences in the design and size of adult bikes, there are a lot more variables to take into consideration when trying to get a good fit.
Determining the best frame size based on measurements is typically pretty straightforward with adult bikes, but getting a feel for the width of the handlebars, the ease of braking, and even the overall weight of the bike can really only be done in person.
If testing out a bike in person simply isn’t possible, not to worry! We’ll continue to test out various bikes on tweens and teens to help you narrow down your options.
Used Adult Bikes
Lastly, in order to save a few bucks, consider looking for a quality used adult bike. High-end adults bikes can also be found used in great condition. It’s rather common for someone to purchase a bike and then decide to sell it after not using it for several years. Even if the bike needs a little work, the cost you would pay for a bike shop to repair the bike is often much less then purchasing a new bike.
Take caution with low-end, big-box store adult bikes. Although these bikes can often be found used, they are typically in poor repair and often not worth the cost to fix.